Korean food is blowing up in a big way in the United States. While bulgogi and bibimbap weren’t particularly mainstream within the American culinary landscape of ten years ago, in recent times, Korean food has followed the route of Korean dramas and pop and exploded onto the American public consciousness. One only has to stop by any of the various K-Towns in New York or Los Angeles for proof.
Perhaps more interesting than Korean cuisine’s rise to fame, however, are the new Korean American entrepreneurs who find themselves making a living off of selling the food of their heritage. Most creative among these are the Korilla boys, led by Edward Song, a Columbia University finance entrepreneur who founded Korilla BBQ in 2010 after deciding to tackle the burning question of just how to make Korean barbeque more popular. First coming up with the name “Korilla,” a combination of the words “Korean” and “grill,” Song then decided that the accessible and versatile nature of Korean food was a major selling point. After assembling a chef team, Song went all-out, combining Korean taste with Mexican style, selling Korean “tacos” and “burritos” in an interesting variation perhaps inspired by the ssam, a common Korean dish where leafy vegetables (usually lettuce) are wrapped around barbeque meat.
With its unique fodder of tacos made of pork and kimchi, Korilla BBQ has exploded in popularity after only having been founded two years ago. Currently with over 18,500 followers on Twitter and near 8,000 likes on Facebook, Korilla BBQ specializes in street marketing, getting positive word of mouth and building an unstoppable buzz amongst customers, all of whom pile up in large numbers for Korilla’s BBQ trucks. And yes, Korilla is pure, 100% street food, with the Korilla dinner and lunch trucks broadcasting their location on Twitter ahead of time and then showing up at various hotspots around Manhattan to reap the benefits of hungry followers. This down-to-earth food truck marketing style is decidedly New York, but also proved successful enough for Korilla BBQ to be featured on the 2011 season of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, where a selection of food trucks travel across America to try to sell the most food and win a prize of 100,000 dollars. Although Korilla didn’t come out as the winner, the experience, according to Edward Song, was still more than worthwhile, especially because it helped to promote both Korilla and Korean food in general. This is important because the true goal of Korilla BBQ isn’t to sell the most tacos or take over New York. Ultimately, says Song, it’s “to create an accessible brand to introduce Korean cuisine to mainstream America. The vision is to empower others to grow with us as we spread the good word about Korean cuisine and grow as second generation Korean Americans.”
With more and more Korilla BBQ fans lining the streets of New York by the droves for kimchi tacos, it looks like Song and his team are doing a pretty good job.
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